It’s hard to sugarcoat how disappointing rookie LB Duke Riley has been in his first five games with the Falcons. Riley has showed off his athleticism at times by always appearing to be around the football, but he simply hasn’t been making any plays. Add to that the fact that the Falcons have struggled a lot against the run with their DT depth being cleared out due to injury, and you have a recipe for some disastrous plays.
For the most part, Riley’s mistakes have all be execution-related. Riley has only 7 solo tackles through five games, with 12 assists and no passes defensed, interceptions, sacks, or forced fumbles. It’s clear that his tackling is atrocious and he can’t seem to shed blocks, but his athleticism can make up for some of those deficiencies. Then you see plays like this.
where is duke going? just leaves the B gap vacant pic.twitter.com/CL1VUY6lkd— dehaunta freeman (@FourVerts) October 18, 2017
With mental errors now added to his poor tackling and relatively lackluster coverage ability, it begs the question: should the Falcons consider benching Riley at this point in the season?
There aren’t many dependable options behind him. De’Vondre Campbell seems to have found his home at SAM, and he simply hasn’t played as well at WILL. Kemal Ishmael is a quality tackler, but opposing offenses will target him relentlessly in the passing game. Jordan Tripp is a core special teams player and not much else, and now he’s injured as well.
The most intriguing option might be Jermaine Grace, the UDFA out of Miami who flashed during the preseason. He’s a similar style of player to Riley and Deion Jones, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be any better than Riley at this point. LaRoy Reynolds is apparently returning to practice this week after starting the season on IR, and he filled in passably at WILL in 2016.
For what it’s worth, I don’t see the Falcons actually making a change at this point. Despite all his flaws, Riley is probably the best player the Falcons have at the position. He’s certainly struggling now, but these early starting reps and mistakes could really help accelerate Riley’s development into a capable starter later in the season. It’s easy to forget that Deion Jones also had his struggles early in his career, although Jones mixed those mistakes with flashes of brilliance.
Duke Riley has a ton of potential, and I think he has a real future at WILL for Atlanta. But with the Falcons’ defense struggling and a match-up against the extremely dangerous Patriots offense coming up this week, do you want to see the team make a change at the LB position?